Deepak Chopra – The need for story & myth ~

I’ve always been a bit confused about Krishna.

Who is Krishna?

You might only know of Krishna through the Hare Krishnas, or George Harrison singing Krishna Krishna on his amazing album, All Things Must Pass. 

Krishna is one of the most revered deities in the Hindu religion. But did Krishna exist? Did he actually live, like Jesus or Buddha? Or was he ever only a character in story – such as in the Mahabharata  an ancient scripture which defines Hinduism.

In other words, was Krishna fictional, or historical?

There is evidence that Krishna did exist, historically – but Deepak Chopra, in an article on the power of myth, gives another perspective. Here is what he says about it all …


What Inspires Me: The Power of Myth
by Deepak Chopra, MD

I was brought up in India, a land that is imbued with a living mythology. Very early on in my childhood, it was my mother who told me that the word “inspiration” literally meant to be in spirit. The spirit, in turn, was the spirit of God, who breathed into the dust of the earth and animated it with consciousness. The most fundamental factor of existence, then, became the awareness or consciousness of existence.

Since it was impossible to imagine God as an infinite being, our collective consciousness used symbols to express divinity. These symbols were literally the gods and goddesses in our mythical stories. Long before I became aware of Joseph Campbell and “The Power of Myth”, I was already deeply immersed in the stories of these magnificent mythological beings who had supernormal powers that went beyond human capacities.

Everyday my mother would read to me and my younger brother Sanjiv stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Indian epics equivalent to the Odyssey and Iliad. Here I learned of the great archetypal energies of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, Krishna, the cosmic alchemist, Ganesh, remover of obstacles.

When I was very young I thought of them as actual beings. Later, I realized that they were in fact symbols of higher states of consciousness that allowed us to tap into the collective imagination and our collective longing to accomplish the extraordinary. They lift us to heights of passion, ecstasy, and extraordinary accomplishments.

As I delved later into the literature of mythology, I realized that “myth” was etymologically related to the following words – mother, matrix, time, measurement, music, matter, meter, mata, mater. Myth was the womb of creation through which the infinite being became quantified and finite in the world of space-time and causality.

Myth as story reveals the creative process itself. Much later I also understood that the rituals of invocation of the gods and goddesses were actually ways to breathe in the archetypal and universal energies into myths to activate that latent power within our awareness.

Now many years later, I realize that icons and even commercial brands are encapsulated myths. They are stories with motifs and themes that capture the essentials of the human drama. The stories contain the eternal conflict between opposing themes: sinner and saint, hero and villain, forbidden lust and unconditional love.

They have in them mystery, adventure, magic, wanderlust, and divine energies such as love compassion empathy and equanimity and the eternal battle to overcome our own demons of anger, hostility, guilt, shame, and fear.

Much later, as I started my writing career, I delved deeply into the cultural mythologies that later became institutionalized religion. I studied the lives of Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha not with a desire to validate their historical truth, but to see them as the symbolic expression of the longing, aspiration, desire, and extraordinary accomplishments in the collective imagination of a people in a particular time and culture.

The themes were essentially the same. These great beings had lived stories that surpassed the capacity of ordinary human beings. They were not limited by social constraints. They were rebels: They did not mimic popular culture, they lead it; they offered hope, trust, stability, and compassion to people in times of confusion, turmoil, chaos, and collective anxiety.

I have gone at length to share with you how my life was inspired by myth and story and how it unfolded in my own career which started as physician dealing with physical problems, but expanding to well-being in all areas of human existence: emotional, social, spiritual, community, ultimately inspiring me to a vision of 100 million people undergoing personal and social transformation to create a critical mass that will lead us in the direction in a more peaceful, just, sustainable, and healthy world. 

My inspiration comes from the great mythological beings of our collective culture and history. These Beings spoke to our collective longing for truth, goodness, beauty, harmony and evolution in the direction of enlightenment. 

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2 thoughts on “Deepak Chopra – The need for story & myth ~

  1. Joseph Campbell is a primary source about these concepts — and he was a devout Catholic.

    His work on Comparative Mythology is perhaps THE best introduction to the subject that’s ever been written, both his Hero with a Thousand Faces and his more broadly conceived 4-book Masks of God series, and so it is extremely valuable as much as for those contemplating further studies and for those seeking a solid basis for a more general understanding, even if all more serious literary studies (and Myths are by very nature literary) will end up leaving such basics in the background. Serious literary studies are after all not everyone’s cup of tea, whereas Mr. Campbell’s own more popular brew is most certainly an aromatic one … 🙂

    to see them as the symbolic expression of the longing, aspiration, desire, and extraordinary accomplishments in the collective imagination of a people in a particular time and culture

    This is most certainly true, but there is also a deeper function of Myth, also found in the Fairy Tale, and really in all storytelling of significance, whether truth or fantasy, which is to be a source of knowledge that can be provided in no other Form or Genre than those that belong to the mythical structures that Joseph Campbell has introduced us to.

    It is most vital to understand that Myth is not fiction — Myth is truth in the form of poetic narrative.


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